Don’t be surprised if Bill Blair continues as Toronto police chief

John Sewell —

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 88, January 9, 2015

This Bulletin is published by the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition (TPAC), a group of individuals and organizations in Toronto interested in police policies and procedures, and in making police more accountable to the community they are committed to serving. Our website is


In this Bulletin:

1. Carding and civilian control of the police

2. New policy on how police deal with those in mental crisis

3. Reconsidering the Safe Streets Act

4. Legislation expected on release of non-conviction records

5. Toronto Police issue many fewer traffic tickets in 2014

6. The next chief of police for Toronto is…

7. A class action suit on the G20 moves forward


1. Carding and civilian control of the police

When a police service is presented with significant change, often the reaction of the police is to defy or deny civilian control. Thus when the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, ordered the police to cease the practise of stopping and frisking youth and when he showed some sympathies for those who demonstrated when the decision was made not to charge officers who killed a cigarette vendor, the rank and file objected strongly. When two officers were killed by a man with a history of mental illness, senior leaders almost blamed the killings on the Mayor, and many officers turned their backs to the mayor at the funerals. It was an example of defying civilian control.

And when in April the Toronto Police Services Board enacted a policy which would substantially restrict carding, require officers to tell youth they were free to walk away, and provide a receipt recording their name, badge number and reason for the stop, the senior police service denied civilian control. Chief Bill Blair was requested by the Board to draft the report on operationalizing the policy within three months, but he refused to do so.

The matter was before the Board on December 15, once again to consider the Community Evaluation of the new carding policy as it was being applied in 31 Division. That evaluation showed officers consistently acted in ways that were contrary to the new policy, and at least half of those stopped by police felt they were dealt with in a disrespectful manner. Almost two dozen speakers complained about the situation, many asking that the policy of carding be entirely curtailed.

Tony Riviera, the commander of 31 Division, gave a long presentation about how his officers have turned things around in 31 Division in the last ten years. He said that all of his officers had been trained for a five week period during this summer in the PACER report. Deputy chief Sloly prepared the PACER report in 2013, and it represents a staff report on carding; the new Board policy rejects the PACER approach. In continuing to rely on the PACER report, Riviera and the police service are deliberately ignoring Board policy, actively favouring staff policy in the face of Board criticism. It is a classic case of the police service denying civilian control on a key procedure that is rife with racial discrimination.

When deputations ended and Board members got around to talking about the issue, none raised the issue of who was actually in charge. Mayor John Tory said a co-operative effort was needed by the Board and the chief, and his tone was clear that it had to be the Board which was more co-operative, something he had emphasized since his election in late October.  The Board decided to again ask the chief to report, in February.

Then, on January 6, Chief Blair announced the he had instructed officers to stop carding operations. That sounds like a good thing, but Blair said he still expected officers to stop people and question them, so it appears that the only thing which has changed is the record-keeping aspect of carding. It seems stopping and questioning those who `look suspicious’  will continue, and that’s not a good thing. The Board will surely revisit this matter on February 18.

Another issue came into view during the December 15 discussion of carding. Commander  Riviera provided a video about the recreation and educational programs run by police officers in 31 Division and the programs appear to be quite extensive – soccer leagues and so forth – and very successful. Few would disagree with the benefit of such programs, but what do police know about such things except as amateurs? It would be better if these programs were run by recreational and educational staff who are appropriately trained in recreation – and it would be a lot less expensive than the $125,000 a year needed to employ a single officer. Local recreation and education staff simply don’t have the funds to offer these programs – the police budget at $1 billion a year has eaten up the money that should be available for these kinds of programs.

2. New policy on how police deal with those in mental crisis

A recent coroner’s jury into the death at the hands of police of three people in mental crisis recommended that police training be changed so that when officers are faced with a person with a knife, police should ask if they could be of assistance rather than demanding that the person put the knife down or be shot. The jury’s recommendations were before the Board in December, and Peter Rosenthal, a lawyer who represented the family of Michael Eligon at the hearing, asked that this one recommendation be implemented immediately: police should talk respectfully to those in crisis as a first step. A member of the coroner’s jury also attended the Board meeting to say that the recommendations had been available for ten months but that no changes had occurred. He said verbal de-escalation was needed.

Chief Blair then spoke. He said a new policy had been in place since June 16, stating that  officers should offer help to a person in crisis. He said the new statement could be found on the police service’s web site

(See )

The new policy begins with a statement of commitment: `Members of the Toronto Police Service are committed to preserving the lives of people in crisis if reasonably possible. Our goal is the safety of every citizen and we aspire to preserve every life;’ and continuing `In every encounter with a person in crisis, we are committed to taking all reasonable steps to attempt to de-escalate a potentially violent encounter, and to safely resolve such situations.’

Some basic instructions are offered, presumably to police officers: `Remain calm; Listen to the person in crisis – What they say may hold the information you need to resolve the crisis; Listening assures the person that you are trying to help them; Remember your safety – If you are the focus of the person’s anxiety, let someone else take the lead ; Reduce distractions – Give the person space, turn off the TV or radio and limit the number of people assisting.’

Chief Blair said that training of officers is now aligned with this new policy.

It seems the new policy is a good step forward, although just before Christmas a man in clear mental distress outside a Walmart store – he was apparently trying to slash himself with a knife – was shot and taken to the hospital.  It is unclear at this time whether attempts were made at de-escalation.

The question is why the Board was not told of this change in June. This is a high profile issue, particularly with the recent release of the Iacobucci report on how to deal with those in mental crisis. It is relatively new information that the police practise when confronting someone in crisis is now to talk rather than demand the knife be put down or the police will shoot. Why did the chief hide the new policy on the web site so those most concerned with this issue – including Peter Rosenthal – were not made aware of it?

3. Reconsidering the Safe Streets Act

The Safe Streets Act was passed by the provincial government of Premier Mike Harris in 2000. It is specifically aimed at giving police more powers to ticket street people who beg for money, clean the windscreens of cars, stand close to bank machines, or proactively ask for money.  Toronto police are thought to issues tickets for several millions of dollars each year for alleged offences under the Act, although because those receive tickets have no money, the tickets simply clog up the court system, perhaps even leading to jail time for those why don’t pay.

A campaign has now been launched to ask the provincial government to repeal the Act. It is led by former attorney general Michael Bryant and supported by Mary Birdsell, executive director of Justice for Children and Youth ( TPAC is also a signatory to the request for repeal.

4. Legislation expected on release of non-conviction records

Yasir Naqvi, the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, has indicated he will bring in legislation in the next sitting of the Legislature to restrict the release of non-conviction records by police in Ontario.

There has been much pressure during the last year for this change, including  a strong report by The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Ontario , and an equally strong position paper by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. Sadly the Toronto Police Services Board and the Toronto police service have both indicated their opposition to any change, and the Board refused to place TPAC’s letter asking that matter by discussed by the Board, on an agenda. See Bulletin No. 84, June 26, 2014 (

5.  Toronto Police issue many fewer traffic tickets in 2014

The value of the traffic tickets issued by Toronto police dropped some $30 million during the past year. That’s a decrease of almost 40 per cent from what’s normal and given the congestion on Toronto roads and the number of pedestrian deaths, it certainly isn’t because there’s no action out there.

It seems the Toronto Police Association has got the word out that officers should not issue as many tickets, perhaps to put financial pressure on police management as negotiations get under way on a new collective agreement. (The usual annual total of fines collected from traffic tickets is $75 million, and that goes into the city’s general revenue fund.) It is difficult for management to instruct officers on how each officer enforces the law since common law makes the individual officer a judge of what should or should not be done in any particular situation, and obviously it would be improper to suggest a quota for each officer. But some change in how officers are managed is required so it is management, and not the Police Association, which has the final word on police activities.

6. The next chief of police in Toronto is .

Money has been spent on a community consultation towards a new police chief – the report on that consultation can be found on the Board’s agenda for December 15, Item No. 4 ( ) – and quite frankly it does not help anyone make any tough choices. Money is also being spent on an international head hunting firm.

But the best thought is that the next chief will be the old chief, Bill Blair. The Board is now in negotiations for a new collective agreement, and Bill Blair’s contract ends in April. How can the Board negotiate a contract without a chief in place? Further, Mayor John Tory has been less than supportive of the chair of the Board, Alok Mukherjee, which means the mayor would turn to Blair for advice.

Don’t be surprised if Bill Blair’s term is extended for another two years.

7. A class action law suit on the G20 moves forward

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice had decided, on appeal, that the class action suit respecting the G20,  Sherry Good v Toronto Police Services Board, may proceed. Mr. Justice Nordheimer concluded in the decision of the court:

`[90]  I reiterate that the core allegation in the location-based subclasses is that the police ordered the mass detention and/or arrest of individuals without any consideration or determination of whether their individual conduct warranted such action.  In that regard, it is alleged that a single command was made in each instance to effect those mass detentions and arrests.  It is further alleged that the same command officer made those orders in at least three of the five location-based subclasses and either that officer, or one other command officer, made the orders in the other two instances

[91]  On the material before us, the number of persons affected in each location-based subclass is as follows: Queen and Spadina, 500; Esplanade, 200; Eastern Avenue, 30; Parkdale, 75; Gymnasium, 113

[92]  It is obvious that there will be significant judicial economy achieved in determining once, and for all members of each of these classes, on what basis the order to detain and/or arrest was made and how that order was communicated to the front line police officers.  It would be the antithesis of judicial economy to undertake that analysis tens, if not hundreds, of times for each individual class member, given the nature of the allegations as to how these detentions and/or arrests took place

[93]  Further, there is a very serious issue of access to justice raised by this case.  Those individuals who were held in the rain and the cold for a number of hours at Queen and Spadina are not likely, on an individual basis, to consider it worthwhile to advance their own individual claims arising from the loss of their liberty.  Most of those individuals, as angry and unhappy and offended as they undoubtedly are at what was done to them by police officers sworn to “serve and protect”, would not likely be willing to devote the time and expense required to seek individual relief through the legal system.  That is especially so when one recognizes that in almost all of these cases we are not dealing with physical injuries or significant psychological damage.  Rather, the damage was made to the liberty interests of these individuals where the harm is, perhaps, easier to ignore and easier to minimize.  Lacking any physical effect, a person who might otherwise be willing to invest in advancing a claim may well, in this instance, consider the energy and expense as the equivalent of “throwing good money after bad”.  It is a harm, however, that is nonetheless real and it is harm, if proven, that should not go unremedied

[95] Finally, .  I believe that behaviour modification is also an objective deserving of consideration in this case.  The fact that there have been a number of investigations undertaken about the policing of the G20 summit does not persuade me that the goal of behaviour modification has been achieved.  If the appellant’s central allegation is proven, the conduct of the police violated a basic tenet of how police in a free and democratic society are expected to conduct themselves.  Their actions, if proven, constitute an egregious breach of the individual liberty interests of ordinary citizens.  On this view of the respondent’s conduct, it is not hyperbole to see it as being akin to one of the hallmarks of a police state, where the suppression of speech, that is uncomfortable for those in positions of power, is made a prime objective of those whose job it is to police the public.  If that view of the conduct in this instance is made out, an award of damages to the individual citizens affected may be the most telling and lasting expression that such conduct should never be tolerated.’

The full decision may be found at